By Angela Peifer, IHSS provider and UDW member in Orange County.
Most IHSS caregivers in the state make just above $11/hour, but in Orange County we make minimum wage. That means we struggle even harder to make ends meet for ourselves, in a county with one of the highest costs of living in California. Many of us worry if we’ll be able to pay all our bills, if there will be money left over to put food on the table, if we can afford that trip to the doctor’s office.
And me? Well, I often have to worry about where I’m going to lay my head at night.
Up until this past month, I spent most of my nights sleeping by the riverbed in Anaheim. But every day I was worried – would I be able to sleep there again tonight? Had the authorities come to clean up the homeless encampment there and thrown away all my belongings while I worked?
I am often asked why, if I am struggling with the low wages paid to IHSS providers in Orange County and with the low amount of hours my client is allotted each week, I don’t just find another job. Surely I could work in something like fast food and make the same hourly wage and receive more hours, people reason.
The truth is I can’t, because my client needs me. I care for a wonderful 70-year-old women who lives with severe rheumatoid arthritis. I see her every day for two hours, helping her around the house, running errands for her, and doing the things she is unable to do to make sure she can live comfortably in her own home. She is like family to me – I can’t abandon her and take a new job.
So I do what I think is right and continue to care for her. And when I am not there, I work to find ways to improve my situation.
County officials recently helped all of us living by the riverbed find temporary housing, but they need me to make more money to qualify for a permanent low-income housing solution, something I can’t do with my current IHSS pay and hours. Our union, UDW, is helping me advocate for more IHSS hours for my client, a change that not only benefits me, but also her: she needs the extra care and IHSS isn’t giving it to her.
UDW also enrolled me in culinary training through the non-profit they started, the B5 Foundation. This opportunity will help me develop a new skillset outside of caregiving and a sense of security for my future.
But what I really need, what we really need, is for the Orange County Board of Supervisors to listen to IHSS providers like me and pay us a living wage. I am not alone in my struggles as a home care provider. We all struggle and sacrifice, and do difficult and vital work, and we do it for such little pay. They need to understand that working for our clients, then wondering how we are going to eat—or where we’re going to sleep—is not okay. Our work doesn’t just save the county money, it saves lives.
We deserve to live, too.
AUGUST 8, 2018 UPDATE: Angela Peifer graduated from culinary training on May 11 and is employed as a pantry cook at an Anaheim Hills restaurant. Angela and her fiancé are still in temporary housing, but they are now on the list for a permanent low-income housing voucher. Angela would love to continue caring for IHSS clients but is no longer able to due in large part to Orange County’s refusal to raise IHSS pay to a livable wage. Their continued failure to raise wages for IHSS providers may mean many more qualified caregivers like Angela will be forced to leave the profession, jeopardizing care for the counties seniors and people with disabilities.